To “sojourn” is “to dwell in a place temporarily.” If you throw in the word “river” beforehand, and then treat sojourn as a noun, it’s safe to assume it’s a place where you might dwell on a waterway temporarily.
Such is the case with River Sojourns, annual gatherings which take place every June during American Rivers Month and draw flocks of like-minded paddlers to some of the East’s most popular waterways to camp, canoe and celebrate all things rivers.
While things might be different this year depending on COVID protocols (check with local organizers), put joining one on your list for whenever the events open back up.
Although each sojourn takes place on a different section of a different river, the majority occur in Pennsylvania, with the state’s Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) showcasing a different sojourn river every year.
“We try to act as a catalyst to get things started, and then encourage local organizations to develop the program in subsequent years,” said the DCNR’s Marian Hrubovcak. “It’s a great way to expose our various waterways to a variety of paddlers.” While Pennsylvania usually hosts six sojourns in June, other states have also joined suit, with sojourns, or portions of them, occurring in Maryland, Delaware and New York.
If you participate, rest assured you won’t be alone. Some sojourns attract hundreds of people who join in for all, or just a portion, of the selected routes. Most gatherings last six to eight days, with several occurring concurrently. En route you’ll meet new paddlers, explore new waterways and camp at different campgrounds. Organizers also schedule programs every night, from campfire sing-alongs and folk music performances to slideshows on local history, geology, culture, flora and fauna.
The type of paddlecraft varies, with canoes and touring kayaks the most common. On the few sections that offer whitewater, such as the Lehigh Gorge, outfitters often assist with rafts. Camping gear is usually moved down for you to the next overnight area, and shuttles are provided or set up by participants. Fees for the sojourns are reasonable, and are scaled down to only cover necessary costs (many of the meals, camping areas and shuttles are donated). Expect to pay between $100-$250 for the entire trip.
“It’s a fun activity for the whole family, and it enhances people’s awareness and commitment to rivers,” said Hrubovcak. “I know some people who spend the entire month of June just going from one sojourn to another.”
The Sojourn List
Delaware River Sojourn
Sojourns on the Delaware, one of the longest-running sojourns in the country, don’t usually take place on continuous segments of the river, simply because the 200+ river miles are too difficult to accomplish in six or seven days. Several days of the event usually occur on the Wild and Scenic Upper Delaware, consisting of 70 miles from Hancock, N.Y., to Port Jervis, N.Y. It is a beautiful, sparsely populated section of river with good flow and numerous riffles. Additional days take place in Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, another Wild & Scenic segment flowing from Matamoras, N.Y., to Portland, Pa., and includes the Kittatinny Ridge area of New Jersey’s Appalachian Trail. Still more days encompass various sections of the Lower Delaware, between Portland, Pa., and Trenton, N.J. As well as including fun-filled evenings around a campfire and a variety of special presentations, these latter days include a visit to the historic Washington’s Crossing Area (with a trip to its museum and monument), where Washington crossed the Delaware to attack the British at Trenton, N.J.
Info.: Delaware & Raritan Greenway, (609) 924-4646; National Park Service, (570) 729-8251.
The Susquehanna Sojourn, which often takes place from Harrisburg, Pa., to Havre de Grace, Md., is one of the oldest sojourns in the country. (The first one took place on the river’s West Branch in central Pennsylvania.) From that first event — a multi-day trip which brought together paddlers, governmental officials, media representatives, conservationists and locals — the trip has grown into one of the most successful sojourns in the state, often drawing more than 200 people participating in all or part of the event’s 70 miles.
The Susquehanna Sojourn adopts a different approach in that trips take place on continuous sections of various parts of the river and its tributaries. Past locations include the Juniata River; the Chenango River from Sherburne to Binghamton, and then down the North Branch of the Susquehanna; and New York’s Chemung River near Corning, to Sayer, Pa., and then down the North Branch of the Susquehanna. Many also help monitor water quality, with speakers from various watershed associations and conservation organizations, and include historical visits to nearby Gettysburg and even naval demonstrations between replicas of the Monitor and Merrimack warships.
Info.: Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay, (717) 236-8825.
Lehigh River Sojourn
The Lehigh Sojourn in Pennsylvania lets participants — often as many as 150 — camp as they go at designated sites along the way. Designated a Scenic River by the state, the waterway’s character changes dramatically over the course of the 71.5-mile trip, which starts in Whitehaven, Pa., and ends at the Delaware River in Easton. The upper section on the first day is a rafting trip through Class III whitewater in Lehigh Gorge State Park, offering spectacular scenery and splashes. Depending on water levels, day two might involve mountain biking on the railroad bed through the Gorge adjacent to the river, with days three through six spent canoeing a much milder river from Jim Thorpe, Pa., to Easton. Along the way, expect nature and education programs, side hikes in the gorge, and even an evening at the local art museum in Bethlehem, Pa., with camping, eating, and enjoyable programs along the way.
Info: Wildlands Conservancy, (610) 965-4397.
The Schuylkill Sojourn
Sponsored by Pennsylvania DCNR, the Schuylkill River Sojourn takes participants 106 miles in seven days from Schuylkill Haven, Pa., to Philadelphia’s Fairmont Park. If you do the whole route, be prepared to paddle as many as 20 miles per day before lounging with your paddling comrades around the campfire. Those paddling the whole thing have to negotiate seven dams. Schuylkill’s history is based on coal mining, and many of the sojourn’s programs reflect that. Reenactments of the coalmining era, and even a chance to see colm (silt) removing equipment in action, start the event line-up. As you progress downstream, the river environment changes from coal mining to agriculture and finally urban. In keeping with this latter setting, on day seven the sojourn offers a tour of several sculling boathouses. Other programs include poetry readings, visits to restaurants with street festivals, early morning birding hikes, wildflower walks, mountain folk shows and nightly bonfires.
Info.: Schuylkill River Greenways Assoc., (610) 372-3916
Youghiogheny River Sojourn
The Youghiogheny Sojourn takes paddlers 75 miles from Confluence, Pa., to McKeesport, exposing them to a wide cross section of water. On the upper stretch, participants use whitewater rafts before transferring to canoes for the rest of the journey. One day is even reserved for biking on a riverside trail. Events are as varied as the event’s paddlecraft, with last year’s sojourn featuring a special black bear presentation by the state game commission, which brought a real-life bear to camp to show participants how to recognize tracks and judge a bear’s age by its teeth. As well as hosting nightly campfire sing-alongs and video festivals, the sojourn also often includes a visit to Frank Lloyd Wright’s “Falling Water” house, which incorporates the Bear Run River, a tributary to the Yough, into the house’s design.
Info.: PA DCNR, (717) 783-5877; Wilderness Voyagers, (800) 272-4141.
Kiskiminetas-Conemaugh River Sojourn
With the river severely degraded by acid mine drainage from coal extraction, the Kiskiminetas-Conemaugh River Sojourn (the Kiski) often centers around the theme of “river revival.” The seven-day, 75-mile-long trip takes participants from Johnstown, Pa., to the Allegheny River, traversing two gorges and exposing paddlers to both pristine and not-so-pristine sections of river. Day one can start off with a Blessing of the Waters by local Lenape Indians, followed by “Canal Days” celebrations and a visit to the Kiski flood museum (the area has been the site of several major floods in recent history). This side trip also includes a ride up the incline plane used to get people to higher elevations in the event of flooding. Other presentations include a trip on the nearby railroad on the Millennium Trail, environmental programs on acid mine drainage sites, and meals and sing-alongs. Unlike many other sojourns, participants on the Kiski Sojourn don’t pack up and change camps every night. Only two camps are used, with shuttles departing for the river each day.
Info.: PA DCNR, (717) 783-5877; Strongland Area Chamber of Commerce, (724) 845-5429.
Paddle to the Bay
Although not a “sojourn” in the Pennsylvania sense of the word, Paddle to the Bay is a 120-mile trip that begins on the Anacostia River near Blandenburg, Md., and ends at Pt. Lookout State Park at the mouth of the Potomac on Chesapeake Bay. Since it’s so robust, to join you first have to complete a 20-mile trial paddle to Georgetown’s waterfront and back to see if you’re fit enough to participate. “We have to screen people to see if they can make it,” said former organizer Robert Boone. “It’s not an Ironman Triathlon or anything, but it does take some physical development.”
Although you’ll camp as in other sojourns, you won’t find special programs en route. More than likely, you’ll be too tired to enjoy them anyway. The trip does have a purpose, however: “It calls attention to the urban impacts affecting the Anacostia, and the fact that places to camp Huck Finn-style are disappearing rapidly,” said Boone. “We want people to know that the Maryland side is semi-protected and that they can experience adventure right in their own neighborhood.”
–Info: Anacostia Watershed Society, (301) 699-6204, www.anacostiaws.org.